Heart Attack Myths: Are You at Risk?

Do you know if you are at risk for a heart attack? Heart attacks can hit when – and who – you least expect.

What is a heart attack?

Medical Definition: A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction (MI), happens when one of the arteries that supply blood to the heart gets blocked. When this happens, the part of the heart that gets blood from that artery is damaged. The longer the artery is blocked, the bigger the heart attack, the more damage caused.

Translation: Have you ever been vacuuming and sucked up a sock? You can still get a little bit of suction through the hose, but not enough to clean the house. If you remove the sock in the hose and push the sock out. You turn the vacuum back on and it runs better than it has in years! The vacuum is like your heart, the hose is your artery, and the sock is the blockage from keeping your heart working.

Heart Attack Myths Vs. Fact

Myth #1: “I know people with high blood pressure or cholesterol are higher risk, but I know I don’t have those medical issues.”

FACT: Many risk factors for heart conditions are “silent.” High blood pressure and high cholesterol usually do not have symptoms and can go unrecognized and possibly cause irreversible damage. If you are unaware of these conditions or don’t seek proper medical treatment, these factors can increase your risk for a heart attack.

Myth #2: “Heart disease and heart attacks affect men and women the same.”

FACT: Heart disease and heart attacks affect all genders differently. Women tend to have fewer, less obvious traditional symptoms. Age can affect how your symptoms present. If you are younger, the symptoms tend to be milder, and you may explain them as stress, not enough sleep, or indigestion.

Myth #3: “Younger women aren’t at risk for a heart attack.”

FACT: Heart disease is the top killer of women in the United States. We tend to think of heart disease and heart attacks as something that happens to older people, but all women are vulnerable to heart issues, especially those with other conditions or receiving hormone replacement therapy treatment.

Myth #4: “I know exercise can help reduce risk of heart attacks, but it involves going to the gym, running, or having a strict workout routine.”

FACT: Exercise and physical activity come in many different forms. Walking for 10 minutes can be beneficial. (I tried an elliptcal machine once, and 53 seconds in, I was panting like a bear just chased me.) Planning an exercise routine can be overwhelming, and not knowing where to start, we decide not to start at all. Start with minor changes like parking further away from your destination so you get a few more steps or take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you have been sitting for an hour or two, get up and walk around for 10 minutes. Activity helps your heart health even when it isn’t vigorous

What are the warning signs of a heart attack?

Common heart attack symptoms can include:

  • Pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest
  • Pain, tingling, or discomfort in other parts of the upper body, including the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or lightheadedness

Some people get these symptoms from laughing too hard, eating too much, or walking up four flights of stairs. So how do you know if your symptoms are a heart attack? Well, you don’t and everyone’s symptoms can be different. Did you know heart attacks don’t always cause chest pain? Sometimes symptoms are arm pain or numbness, pain in the upper back or jaw with no other classic symptoms. If you are having pain associated with a heart attack, the pain generally won’t stop or go away.

So if I think I’m experiencing heart attack symptoms, what should I do?
  1. If you have had constant pain for more than 10 minutes, try to alleviate the pain by:
  • Change positions
  • Cough
  • Take a deep breath
  • Walk around
  1. If the pain does not improve or worsens, seek emergency medical treatment immediately. Do not wait to seek medical treatment. Consider the common symptoms and don’t discount the minor ones.

WMMC hopes you are more informed about heart attacks and when to seek help. Please remember than in case of an emergency, always call 911.

Author: Katie Elam, BSN, RN

Katie is an Emergency Room Nurse at Western Missouri Medical Center and has cared for many patients with heart concerns and heart conditions. Her passion for emergency education comes from her experience with patients that ignored symptoms that resulted in a heart attack. Her personal experience of her mother passing from a heart attack motivates her to encourage patients to seek emergency medical treatment.

“We are happy when a patient is cautious and seeks emergency treatment for concerning symptoms,” Katie says, “The nurses at WMMC Emergency Room are always here for you!”

Contact: Eleanore Eye
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(660) 262-7472

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About Western Missouri Medical Center

Western Missouri Medical Center (WMMC) is a fully-accredited acute care county medical center located in Warrensburg, MO. WMMC prides itself in emergency care, obstetrics, orthopedic and general surgery, family healthcare, internal medicine, outpatient clinics, ambulatory care, rehabilitation services and more. Inpatient services include medical, surgical, intensive, obstetrical, orthopedic, pediatric and skilled nursing care, as well as a wide range of therapeutic and diagnostic outpatient services. This institution is an equal opportunity provider and employer. Learn more at WMMC.com